John Carmack, legendary game designer, missile type and VR enthusiast, has announced that he is leaving both Meta/Facebook and the virtual reality business behind as one of its most prominent champions even after a decade.
Carmacks Position was as senior advisor. After initially sending his farewell message to colleagues in an internal memo, when it was partially leaked to the media, he decided to post the whole thing – including some clarifications – on his Facebook page instead.
Here it is complete:
This is the end of my decade in VR.
I have mixed feelings.
Quest 2 is almost exactly what I wanted to see from the start – mobile hardware, inside-out tracking, optional PC streaming, 4k(ish) screen, inexpensive. Despite all the complaints I have about our software, millions of people still benefit from it. We have a good product. It is successful and successful products make the world a better place. It could have all gone a little quicker and better if different choices had been made, but we built something that’s pretty close to The Right Thing.
The problem is our efficiency.
Some will ask why do I care how progress happens as long as it happens?
If I’m trying to influence others, I’d say that an organization that has known only inefficiency is ill-prepared for the inevitable competition and/or belt tightening, but in reality it’s the more personal pain, a GPU utilization number of 5% to see production. I am offended by this.
[edit: I was being overly poetic here, as several people have missed the intention. As a systems optimization person, I care deeply about efficiency. When you work hard at optimization for most of your life, seeing something that is grossly inefficient hurts your soul. I was likening observing our organization’s performance to seeing a tragically low number on a profiling tool.]
We have a ridiculous amount of people and resources, but we constantly self-sabotage and waste our efforts. There is no way to sugarcoat this; I think our organization operates at half the efficiency that would make me happy. Some may scoff and claim we’re fine, but others will laugh and say, “Half? Ha! I’m at quarter efficiency!’
It was a struggle for me. I have a top-level voice here, so it feels like I should be able to move things, but I’m obviously not convincing enough. A good fraction of the things I complain about eventually turn their backs on me after a year or two and the evidence mounts, but I’ve never been able to kill stupid things before they do any harm, or give direction that a team actually adheres to. I think my influence on the fringes has been positive, but it’s never been a driving force.
This was admittedly self-inflicted – I could have moved to Menlo Park after the Oculus acquisition and tried to fight battles with generations of executives, but I was busy coding and assumed I hate it, be bad at it, and probably lose would anyway.
Enough complained. I’m fed up with the fight and need to run my own startup, but the fight is still winnable! VR can bring value to most people in the world, and no company is better positioned to do so than Meta. It may actually be possible to get there simply by advancing current practices, but there is much room for improvement.
Make better decisions and fill your products with Give a Damn!
As his clarification states, while his comments may seem scathing, they don’t necessarily relate to individual people he worked with or decisions made about him. Rather, it’s about his clear passion for the idea of optimization itself, a structural and systemic problem that in a company as big as Meta might be insane for a guy used to writing code and launching rockets into space has become.
This would normally be the part of a story where I would drop some guesses maybe how such a high profile departure could spell trouble for meta’s efforts in space but lol, I think Meta does it well enough to yell that from the rooftops themselves.